The Jew Who Defeated Hitler. Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR, and How We Won The War.

Author:Feingold, Henry L.
Position:Book review

The Jew Who Defeated Hitler. Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR, and How We Won The War. By Peter Moreira. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2014. 348pp.

Historians sometimes overlook important actors in history. The case of Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR's Secretary of the Treasury, is especially puzzling. The oversight is not caused by a paucity of archival material, as Morgenthau maintained a most complete record of his doings. Almost daily he dictated his aggravations to Henrietta Klutz, his faithful secretary, who also served as his bridge to the Jewish community. After he left office he commissioned noted Yale historian Morton Blum to write his political biography. Blum's three volumes, on which Moreira draws heavily, took twelve years to complete. Nonetheless, despite two new books and a TV documentary about the Morgenthau dynasty, his remarkable contribution to the mobilization of American industry to which many trace the ultimate defeat of Germany remains largely unheralded. If indeed World War II was the most costly and impactful event in human history, as Moreira observes, then Morgenthau's role in readying an unprepared nation for a war should go down in history as the crucial step assuring the ultimate Allied victory.

The title of this book suggests that Morgenthau's remarkable role is related to his Jewishness. He held the highest official position in the Allied camp, with a ringside seat to observe the workings of the "final solution," and Morgenthau emerged from the war a newly affiliated Jew. His wartime role cannot be fully fathomed without understanding the Jewish-Holocaust nexus which is at the heart of the Morgenthau story. That relationship requires deeper probing than this book offers. Morgenthau was in many ways an unlikely candidate to be the "Jew who defeated Hitler." Of all the Jews in Roosevelt's inner circle, the Morgenthaus, who alone maintained social as well as political ties with the Roosevelts, were least communally affiliated. Berlin far more than wartime Washington recognized Morgenthau as a personification of the Jewish enemy. His family did not deny its Jewishness but neither did they carry it proudly like the Schiffs and the Marshalls. The young Morgenthau was never exposed to primary rites that serve as the traditional hallmarks of Jewish identity formation. He celebrated no bar mitzvah and did not attend a Passover Seder until 1945. His father had set the family against the Zionist current when most American Jews viewed...

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